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Current Table

After her award-winning design The Energy Collection, Marjan van Aubel now shows us how solar energy can be integrated in our daily lives. Current Table has inbuilt solar panels and will charge your phone during work. 

By Cassandra Pizzey / 13-03-2014

Merging technology and everyday objects once seemed like something from a science-fiction film. Now we are constantly walking around staring at miniature screens, that digital world has now become our reality. Marjan van Aubel’s latest project seeks to facilitate our constant need to be connected as her Current Table is able to charge your hardware. 

In 2012 Van Aubel created The Energy Collection, a combination of solar glassware and a cabinet that stores energy, which can later be used to charge a phone or power a light source. The project was awarded the DOEN | Materiaalprijs (Material Prize) in 2012. “This project was a good way of telling this story of how to integrate solar energy in our daily lives,” explains the designer.

The prize money from DOEN, allowed Van Aubel to do more in-depth research into the properties of colour and led her to collaborate with Michael Graetzel and Solaronix who develop Dye Sensitized Solar Cells (DSSC). Together they researched new applications for the DSSCs which work much the same as photosynthesis and use the properties of colour to create an electrical current. “Applied to functional objects, this innovative technology has the potential to change the way we relate to everyday objects and embed energy harvesting into our daily habits.”

This technique was already used in The Energy Collection but says the designer: “It functioned more as a concept, as not all the objects actually worked.”

With the Current Table, however, it is a different story. The table features solar cells and a connection point for your usb cable. While sitting at the table, it is possible to charge your phone or tablet. “Current Table is a more efficient version of this cabinet and can be applied now. It has a bigger surface area which makes it more effective. I like the fact that the the area you work from is the area that collects energy for the devices you will be working on.”

Van Aubel, while known for her cross-over between design and technology, is also in tune with her aesthetics and craft side. A previous project together with Jamie Shaw (Well Proven Chair) takes a completely low-tech approach to design as wood shavings and bio resin are combined to create a series of foam-wood chairs. We ask the designer what it is then about technology fused with design that is so attractive.

She explains that designers have the ability to tell stories through objects and change the user’s behaviour, that designers can bridge the gap between technology and the user. Often aesthetics are overlooked for the sake of technology, something Van Aubel argues, leads to poor integration in our living spaces. “We should aim for solutions that aren’t purely technology driven, but are also desirable,” she says.

“Take the DSSCs, it’s fascinating that colour – which is mostly used for aesthetic reasons – can also generate energy, it has a double function.”

Back to the table and its ultimate function, charging electrical devises. The table itself eliminates the need to run cables through the house at it acts as a battery itself. Thanks to new technological advances, the solar panels within the table top are so sensitive that they will work indoors. The table can even be placed outside to create a functional workspace any place you may desire. Van Aubel: “This table shows how utility and aesthetics can be combined in everyday objects.”

Granted, the table is meant as a work station but could easily be implemented as dining table or meeting point as we see in the video [below] that accompanies the project. We ask the designer if we really need more screens around during our social interactions.

“Of course we don't need that, but it is what happening. We are changing the way we communicate and therefore it is important to keep on improving more human ways of interacting around technology. It should respond to our emotional and psychological needs. Therefore I think a more natural way of dealing with charging our appliances is important and it may make switching them off easier. Isn’t it the same as putting down a book while you’re at dinner?”

The Current Table is indeed a smart piece of technology, fused with design. It looks good too and with its triangular legs and bright orange surface wouldn’t look out of place in most modern offices. Van Aubel wouldn’t mind seeing it in public spaces such as libraries, waiting rooms or meeting rooms either. But what about the console itself, the one that you plug the USB-cord into. What happens when a new technology replaces the need for USB?

Thankfully Van Aubel already has an answer to that: “The small tray is interchangeable as I anticipate the coming of new technologies to replace our existing ones. Hence the name, Current Table.”

Photography: Mathijs Labadie